For Teresa Jackson, the holiday bazaar at Peace Lutheran Church, an ELCA renewing congregation in Tacoma, Wash., is much more than a chance for people to snag good deals on crafts and gently used clothes.
These days Teresa is a leader in both her congregation and the ELCA Southwestern Washington Synod when it comes to alleviating poverty and homelessness. She was even invited to attend the launching of the ELCA homeless network in Philadelphia. But things were very different only a few short years ago.
Teresa had been homeless for a number of years when her grandchildren were removed from their parents by child protective services. Teresa was able to get herself off the street and into a house in order to give the kids a stable home, but she wanted to give them even more than that.
“When I got the kids I wanted them to go to church. My own children didn’t go to church,” she says. “I kind of blamed their downward spiral on the fact that they didn’t go to church.”
Teresa had grown up Lutheran, so she got out a phone book and found Peace, a congregation supported in part by the generous donations of ELCA members to ELCA Vision for Mission, which helps fund ministries that need it most.
Peace had a church van that could bring the family to church since they didn’t have a car. And after a few Sundays, she says, she and the kids felt right at home. And then she heard an announcement about a holiday bazaar taking place at another congregation.
“I said to the pastor’s wife, ‘Why don’t we have one of those,’” Teresa shares. “She said, ‘Yeah, why don’t you do one?’ I said, ‘I can’t do that,’ and she says, ‘Sure, you can!’”
Teresa says she decided to “take a stab at” it, but one thing was for sure: this would not be like the fancy, high-priced craft fairs she’d encountered in the past.
“From my homeless days I remembered the frustration of having to pay to get in and pay to eat and pay to do everything,” she says. “I knew in our community that kind of bazaar wasn’t going to work.”
So Teresa got people to donate their used clothes, household gifts and crafts for the fair, making sure people knew that “Grandma’s teacup wasn’t going to sell for $25 but probably more like 25 cents.”
The bazaar also featured a meal of a hot dog and chips for $1, and Teresa’s granddaughter set up a photo booth where people could pay to get their picture taken in front of a snowman backdrop.
“One year an old man came in totally disheveled and cold, and he had something to eat, and I told him he should have his picture taken,” Teresa remembers.
Though he couldn’t afford the dollar to pay for the picture, Teresa arranged for the picture anyway. “He sent it to his mother who he hadn’t seen in many years,” Teresa shares. “He said, ‘This is the first picture I’ve seen of myself since I was a kid.’”
Now the holiday bazaar is a yearly fixture each November in Tacoma. “The community all counts on it now,” Teresa says.
And Teresa, who once relied on Peace Lutheran Church for support in her own struggles, is making sure that others can find the same respite she did all those years ago.